Lionfish — a spiny, striped invasive species found off the coast of Florida — has become a major threat to the coral reefs surrounding the state since they were first reported in 1985.
FWC officials report that lionfish eat and compete with other native fish, which has negative impacts on Florida’s coral reefs.
Due to this, state officials encourage divers and fishers to hunt for lionfish in an attempt to reduce their numbers.
Lionfish can be harvested year-round with unlimited daily bag limits, and fishing licenses aren’t necessary to hunt lionfish with a pole spear or a handheld net.
These fish can be found in nearly any depth of water, so you can try to hunt them down while free diving.
However, lionfish hunter Andy Lowe told News 6 that you should try to become a certified diver and invest in the proper equipment if you want to effectively hunt them down.
“They’re a lot more common in the deeper water...” Lowe explained. “Because they have venomous spines, the easiest way to collect them and harvest them is to spear them and then put them in a PVC container. And then you’re not worried about being stung.”
Lowe added that there are plenty of tourist destinations that can help less-experienced hunters learn the ropes, too.
“They’re not usually going to let you just go out and try lionfish hunting,” he said. “But there are quite a few places that will take you lionfish diving if you are already a diver. You usually just need to have your own container and a spear.”
For hunters who want to sell their harvested lionfish, they’ll need to grab a saltwater products license.
In addition, the FWC has a list of lionfish wholesale dealers who may accept lionfish catches. That list can be found here.
One of those dealers is Wild Ocean Seafood Market in Titusville, which buys from local suppliers.
Wholesale Manager Christopher Merrifield said that they typically require hunters to remove the lionfish’s venomous parts to get the highest price.
“We typically require our fishermen to go ahead and cut those off,” he said. “That way, my fish cutter in house or the next wholesaler in line doesn’t have to deal with it... If the fish came in, and it was untouched — just as it came out of the ocean — I’d probably be paying around $5 a pound for it. If they de-barb it, I’ll up that a dollar to $6, and if they cut it, I’ll up that to $6.50, typically.”
However, Merrifield added that there’s not much usable meat on a lionfish, which can cut into profit margins.
“The meat is only about 25% of the weight of the fish, and that’s gutted...” he said. “There’s no meat in the head, so it’s just the filets on either side, and unless it’s a sizable fish, those boys are really tiny.”
Alternatively, hunters can use their harvested lionfish to cook up a meal at home.
“It’s delicious,” Lowe said. “You just have to be careful because of the venomous spines, but heat breaks down the venom... Being cold, on ice or in the freezer, the venom can still be poked, but I found if you leave it out on the counter at room temperature for about a half hour, then I would just filet it like I do any other fish — and if you do get poked, the sting usually was not bad.”
For more information on how to hunt, sell or filet lionfish, visit the FWC’s website here.
Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below: